One of the biggest challenges to the geopolitical makeup of the current Nigerian federation is the curious ways in which states were created and boundaries were allocated. The first two state creation exercises in post-independence Nigeria were done by the federal government as a vendetta and to score political points against their perceived enemies -the creation of the MidWest from the Action Group controlled Western region by the NPC/NCNC allied federal government in 1964; and the creation of Rivers from the old Eastern region/Biafra republic by the Gowon-led federal military government in May 1967. Every other state creation since then reflected more of ethnic consideration and rivalry than administrative convenience. It has been 24 years since the last six states were created, and the byproduct of an improper delineation-communal and cross-boundary clashes-have remained. And escalated.
In late September this year, it was reported that one person was killed in a clash over a mineral-rich land dispute between the Ezeke-Amasiri and Amata-Akpoha community in Afikpo North LGA of Ebonyi state. This incident is one of the many that have happened in Ebonyi this year. What is even more frequent are the clashes between communities in Ebonyi and Cross River.
In the same week as the Afikpo incident, two people were confirmed dead in a renewed boundary crisis between the people of Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State and Obubara Local Government Area of Cross River State. The deceased was said to be a nine-year-old boy and an aged man whose identities had yet-to-be known as of press time. Apart from the deaths, three houses were also reported to have been razed. What is missing in both incidents, is reconciliatory moves by the governments, unlike the boundary dispute between Tiv and Jukun communities in Benue and Taraba states which has seen a half-hearted commitment to peace by the governors of both states.
Between Rivers and Bayelsa states lie the Soku Oil Wells dispute which had been a bone of contention since 2002. There are several more cases of badly defined boundaries that have served to escalate historical animosities. When analysts and academics talk about Africa’s arbitrary boundaries created at the Berlin Congress of 1884/1885, they fail to recognize the same mistakes made within Nigeria’s borders by its elites who should know and do better. The amalgamation and subsequent colonization of the entity that is now known as Nigeria froze a lot of conflicts at the surface level which resurfaced after independence, and even the Willinks Report of 1957 which looked into minorities’ concern did not do well to simmer these boiling tensions, which military governments have sought to control by creating new states whenever they are in the mood to.
In all of these renewed cross-boundary disputes, the silence of the federal government is telling. The National Boundary Commission exists for this exact reason and its aloofness calls into question the money allocated to its annual budget. With each passing incident that has led to the loss of lives and properties, more dimensions are added to the conflict. Poverty is perceived to be at the core of the clashes occasioned by scarcity of farmlands, but if the Afikpo incident is worth any consideration, the fight over land may just be driven by resource control which should be a case of arbitration by the governments of both states, and very importantly, the national boundary commission which has been sleeping on its constitutional duty.